Last June I underwent a month-long training intensive (read 6/7 days a week, 10 hour days) at the True Acting Institute, improving my understanding of the Meisner Technique and learning how to teach it to others. Training with master teacher Larry Silverberg was extremely affirmative of my work as an actor, and of my skill to share what I know.
This summer, I started classes as an instructor of a Level Three Meisner class at Green Shirt Studio. Over 10 weeks, I led students through the deeply personal, trying work of emotional preparation. It was rewarding to put this teaching certificate to good use, and I am very thankful to Andrew Gallant and Sommer Austin for welcoming me into the studio as a student, observer, and teacher! If you don't know much about Green Shirt, come check it out. There are FREE classes on Fridays and a variety of affordable classes of many subjects.
Check out my Green Shirt Studio profile page HERE.
This June I participated once again in the Walkabout Theater Summer Training Intensive.
We spent five days training physically and vocally, and in the evenings worked with the Walkabout Ensemble to craft a performance piece. I created a 10 minute solo performance about the nature of memory and what it's like when a day dream becomes a nightmare.
I also got up on stilts for the first time and was introduced to some of the stilt dancing that has become a signature of this company's work.
Presented by Birch House Immersive at Rigby’s at The Den Theatre February 13th and 14th.
Created by: Dean Corrin, Lauren N. Fields, Janie Killips
Produced by: Ebony Adanta and Sarah McElroy
Sound Design: Eric Richardson
The cast of Lonely Hearts includes Drew Beyer, Juliana Brecher, Leo Chappell, Anna Connelly, Dean Corrin, Tyler Esselman, Laura Harrison, Charles Johnston, Christina Jones, Claire Allegra Taylor, Ashlyn Lozano, Krystal Ortiz, Jill Perez, Joshua Servantez, and Keith Surney.
I am pleased to announce that I will be an intern this year at MACE nfp's event Winter Wonderland Workshop. This is the largest stage violence conference in the U.S. and after attending last year, and taking many wonderful workshops, I am happy to join this year as staff, along with the following people:
I walk up the steps to my still-new house. Just enough heat was stored up in my jacket from the warmth of the car to make it inside before it the cold could sneak through and really chill me. I fling my backpack down and heat up some soup – my purpose for coming home. I stare into the sad bowl of corn chowder with mild yet expectant disappointment. I don’t particularly like soup. It’s just that it’s fall, and that’s a thing you’re supposed to do and like. So I spoon the rapidly cooling mush into my mouth and let my mind wander. I realize that the last time I was eating soup, I was in Badlands National Park. I arrived at the open plot campground late. It was due to a mixture of hasty planning, distraction, and the best sunset I had ever seen. Streaks of red burned through the grey clouds over the foreign terrain of the Badlands. I had to stop.
After the peak of it was over, I began driving again. It was only about 7:30 but everything was dark. It was that kind of quick darkness that only happens in the plains. In the mountains, you have more of a warning; their shadows remind you of what’s coming. It’s the kind of darkness that only happens in late summer, where things are still warm, yet it’s the only thing that tells you winter is still, inescapably, coming.
I roll up and find the most private place to pitch my tent – about 6 feet from a large green one and about 10 feet from a couple who are quite clearly sleeping in their minivan. I am alone, young, and female. I arrive after dark. I bet they think I have no idea what I’m doing, that I’m weird, that I’m insane. As I work, those thoughts gnaw on me until I start to believe them as well. The green tent people are sitting on chairs watching nothing in particular as there are no fires allowed, and everything is too dark to see, but still too light for stars.
It is fiercely windy as I expertly roll out and pitch my tent in a few minutes with the help of a tiny flashlight precariously tucked under the strap of my sports bra. That’ll show my neighbors I at least know what I’m doing, right? I opt out of blowing up the air mattress with my car, as that seems somehow inappropriate in this quiet. I roll out some blankets and my sleeping bag and brace myself for what I know will be a less-than-comfortable night. I throw down my ground blanket over the cracked dirt, and pull out a few items. Stove, propane, pot, spoon, soup can, and baguette. I haven’t eaten yet. I heat up some Progresso Minestrone and watch the green flames flicker light out and over me.
I felt exposed. The plains stretched for miles with only a small hill behind me. The sky stretched even farther, and up above it went on forever. I waited. It was an unfamiliar feeling. Being alone, in the darkness, with nothing to do. My hand itched to check my phone even though lack of service yielded it pointless. When the soup seemed to be simmering, I dug in and ate in a quiet, careful, and sad silence.
This was the first night I spent outside in a little over a month. I was able to identify that I felt so off because it was the first time I felt like I was running from something, rather than toward. I didn’t like it. That wasn’t me! That wasn’t what this year was about! In two days I would be home in Chicago. But could I even call it that? Not yet, I don’t think. California wasn’t home either. Not in a current way, anyway. I was in the middle of strangers, in the middle of nowhere, heading somewhere at a rate that wasn’t fast enough to take me away from what I was running from: a shocking fear, an exposed heart, a dream coming true?
This line of thinking was interrupted by one of the most magical and chilling sounds. I felt my entire nervous system clench and tremor in a primal response. What started as one coyote howl turned into a small pack of howls from my right. And then another to the left. Another group from somewhere farther off, and another yet farther still. They bellowed and laughed and cried to each other, these four or five packs. It sounded like a thousand of them. Minutes went by of them calling back and forth. It was clear they were on the hunt. It was like I could understand what they were saying as they gave out directions on their whereabouts and their plan.
And as their last echoes faded out across the grasses, I became aware that the wind had died down and the clouds were starting to clear, revealing stars in beautiful patches across the sky. Those coyotes cleared my thoughts for a moment. Instead of focusing where I just was, or where I was going to be, I was utterly aware of exactly where I was. I quietly and contentedly got ready for bed, and curled up with a book, ready to drift off. Then I heard Ira Glass.
His voice leaked out of a car that had pulled up directly behind mine. I peeked out. It couldn’t be. My friend had considered meeting me for the evening, but I had lost both cell service and hope of his arrival. “Claire?” I get through the zipper of my sleeping bag and the zipper of my tent. We catch up over pitching his tent, and spend a few hours in quiet contemplation and confused stargazing. The coyotes call out through the darkness again and the magic washes over us one last time before I crawl back in my tent, prepared for another day of the same journey.
My first year acting teacher told us that we were artists, and that we would soon have to think of ourselves as such. I spent that year, and the following two, battling the line between "actor" and "artist." I didn't know what it meant to be either, nor did I understand the difference between the two. I spent college thinking, if I become a great actor, then I will be a great artist. I now know that those two things do not equate.
The last year of college started out great. I felt deeply in touch with my physical growth in stage combat and movement. I was having conversations about what type of theatre I was excited by and how I wanted to better the Chicago theatre community. I was finally studying some techniques I had wanted to learn. And then I was hit by a giant yellow bus labelled "PROFESSIONAL ACTOR."
The words thrown around between me and my friends, and me and my professors turned from: craft, progress, ownership, artistry, release, study... to: agent, resume, industry, submission guidelines, type, demo, reel, taxes, business... I went along with it because, okay, yes, sure, I have to do these things if I want to be successful. Success was no longer open for my interpretation.
I was told that success looked like having an agent within six months of graduation (at least by next pilot season or else what are you doing??), like getting a paycheck every month for that industrial or commercial, like knowing exactly your type and how to play into it, like going to opening nights and shmoozing with casting directors and artistic directors and play directors and making plans for "coffee sometime." Like checking audition postings every other day and reaching out for every opportunity even if it wasn't something particularly interesting (because you've got to be doing something to get those college credits off your resume after all!) and like working some stupid flexible day job so that you can afford to take time off to run all over town to get to three auditions and back on a long lunch break.
Success was no longer mine to define. I felt a voice pop up in the back of my head, that one that makes you raise your hand and challenge the teacher: What if I don't want to do that? Is it cool if I don't actually want an agent? How about if the idea of shmoozing makes me sick? Is it okay if I just want to make cool art with my friends? Can I teach? Can I use these skills in another career path? Does that disappoint you? Am I letting you down?
I was asked to make a five year plan to achieve my dreams. Asking a 21 year old to define their life dreams is a silly task in my opinion. I liked the idea but I wanted to wait until I was out of school for some time, but I grit my teeth and did the assignment, and quite honestly, I hadn't looked at it since. I forgot about it in the last two quarters of school and I worked hard on making myself marketable and learning the industry. It was always in the back of my mind though - the steps and the goals and the check marks and the plan the plan THE PLAN.
I somehow got the incredible fortune to become part of Tour 68 of the National Players. It's a touring company that travels the U.S. performing shows to under-served communities. As Players, the ten of us fill all acting, technical, and administrative duties of the company, with two bosses in our head office in Maryland. I won't bother too much with the incredible details of the life on tour and the shows, as those deserve blog posts of their own right, except to say my responsibilities within the company and the benefits I have walked away with.
I was an actor in all three shows, often taking on multiple characters, the Social Media Manager, and the Education Coordinator and frequent teacher, as well as assisting on the set and lighting crew. I can't imagine another setting where one person has their toes in so many departments at a time.
I look at my five year plan and I laugh a little because I know that at the time, I wasn't being real. Even though it was a product of an honest try of labeling what I wanted out of life, I just wrote down what I thought was correct, what I thought I needed to do to reach this level of success spoon fed to me class after class. The only honest dream I have on there is "own a dog." Yeah, that one's definitely real. It was real at the time I wrote it, but it was real answers to a different question. What I thought I was answering was "What steps do I need to take to be successful?" Now I realize I answered the question "What steps do I need to take to be a successful actor." I now get to make new goals to new dreams that answer "What do I need to do to be a fulfilled artist?"
I have had to answer again and again - to family, family friends, teachers, friends, professional contacts - how my time with National Players was, and what am I up to now? Often times I can't help but to detect an underlying hint of, "When will you return to your normal life in Chicago and pick up where you left off?" They aren't expecting me to say, I don't know. Are you coming back here? Probably, unless I love Seattle. What's up next? Well, I'm training to be a teacher, and then I'm going to be a teacher for a bit so pretty much doing what I'd like to at the minute. So, you want to teach? Are you still going to be an actor? Yes, of course. On my terms.
Yes, I am living a weird few months. I have an instragram feed to prove it. I've been living out of a car for six months, and haven't slept in the same bed for more than five nights, and a rare time at that. It will be 11 months since I have paid traditional rent or rent at all. I'm traveling and enjoying the woods and training other skills and writing and reading and hiking and loving. I can imagine the thoughts from a lot of people. But I promise I know exactly what I'm doing.
What a lucky thing. My job came at just the right time that I feel like I never had to live through the typical starving artist life that works so well for some, but that I know I would have felt unfulfilled by had I stayed doing what I was doing. I could have scrambled for years chasing agencies and roles and auditions. But, I got plucked out of my little bubble and swept into a hurricane that took me across the country and threw me back down to the ground without a place to call home, but it blew a map into my hands before it left. I now know that I value spending time in nature, clean air, strong legs, and dirty boots. I know I have a passion for helping youth meet their goals and discover their potential. I know I need a career where I can use most of my skills every single day and I've got a plan to do that. I learned that I can work in any part of the country, not just the big three cities. There are jobs in theatre everywhere, you just have to stay open. And I learned that people who are important to you will stay in your life no matter how far apart you may be. And when you find people who are extra special, hold on real tight, because you may only be passing through.
My first stage combat conference was incredibly thrilling and demanding. I was able to participate in three out of the four days. Unfortunately the fourth day was the day I needed to head out to resume my job with the National Players. I wasn't sure I would be able to squeeze in this opportunity before my departure because I was in the process of packing up my apartment, putting my belongings in storage, and traveling for months. I wasn't sure I would be able to afford the mental, physical, or time effort this would take, but boy am I glad I did.
I moved my belongings out of my apartment on Wednesday minus the possessions I'd be taking on the road with me, an air mattress, a sleeping bag, a pillow, and a small remainder of food in the fridge. Each night I came home exhausted to an apartment with no wifi, no coffee, and no shower curtain, only to pass out in my twin air bed on the hardwood floor in the middle of an empty bedroom.
Day one was a fast blur. I felt like a freshman on my first bleary-eyed day of orientation and class, only without my forced-friend roommate by my side for company. I knew the faces of a few people there, but only through brief professional meetings. I drove to Rosemont at a fuzzy 7:00am thinking how young, how female, how green I must come across, and internally predicted the mental elbowing I would have to do to claim a space at this little shin-dig. But as I check in and scan the crowd for the one friendly face I hope to see, I notice at least 50% of the people I'm checking out are young women like me. I do little happy dance inside my head and settle in.
I find a little spot against a wall near friendly looking people and do some half-hearted attempts at stretching, 'cause that's what real art people do in this situation, right? A nice man chats with me until we meet our organizers. The next 6/7 hours are intense. I run from Small Sword to a lecture on rehearsing scenes of sexual violence, to a class on grapples and falls and then to Broadsword. I make new friends with combatants in my level group, I have a lot of bad coffee from the hotel, and I stay to work on the massive group fight scheduled in the evening.
The next two days go by much in the same manner but with increasing soreness (and a minor injury). I really truly think I'm safe in saying that I have never ever been as sore as I was at the end of day three. I kinda wonder if I kept going, would I eventually cross a soreness threshold? I fought imaginary creatures with an imaginary quarterstaff, was exposed to super challenging new weapon styles: Longsword of Leichten (anyone?) and Case of Rapiers (two of them!!). I had a fun time working on "unrehearsed" Shakespeare with a look at the final fight in Hamlet. I spent so much time working to perfect my favorite weapon Small Sword (I'm not the only one, right? there are more of you out there?).
I have met some pretty incredible people through this opportunity and can't wait to see the familiar faces at all the next workshops. I feel so empowered that there are hundreds of women coming into this field with such passion and talent, and knowing I can be a small part of that is so wonderful.
Thanks to Fight Guy Photography for capturing all the moments of this experience!
This weekend I performed at Sappho's Salon at the Women and Children First Bookstore in Andersonville. I hadn't been familiar with this salon in the past but oh boy was I so excited to have gone.
After creating and performing at Fight Night: Valkyries, Eileen Tull asked Vahishta Vafadari and me to come as featured performers for the evening and remount our play "Test Tubes/Grenades."
We listened to gorgeous poems by the very talented Rachel Simon, the other featured performer, as well as very exciting stories and writing of all kinds at the open mic portion of the evening. After our performance, we listened to people tell their coming out stories, as the evening fell on National Coming Out Day. It was an emotional and inspiring evening!
Thanks for including us, Eileen!
About this blog
A place to post updates about what I am involved in as well as my experience navigating the Chicago theatre community.
Claire Allegra Taylor is a cultivator, investigator, and questioner of human relationships. She firmly believes that humans can always do better, be it in our treatment of the ones we love, our desire to fix epidemic social problems, or our care for our environment. Claire wants to use theatre as a means to show how this is possible. She would like to create work that is vibrant in its language and physical capacity that challenges a modern audience’s expectations.